A moment for Buhari to seize

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*Buhari

Kayode Komolafe

Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano made a statement in Aso Rock yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari should ponder beyond the surface.

While informing the President about the plight of 5,000 persons displaced by floods in four local government areas in his state, Obiano gave a report on the federal government projects in Anambra including the famous 2nd Niger Bridge and road projects.

Responding to those who say Buhari is not popular in Anambra state, Obiano said: “That’s not true. In Anambra , we love the President very much. The President has been doing well.

He is building the 2nd Niger Bridge. You think it’s very easy to build 2nd Niger Bridge? And I just told you that he was the fellow that did Enugu-Onitsha Expressway when he was chairman of PTF. Now he is President fixing the road. Then he built the Zik Mausoleum. You know you can’t talk about Nigeria without mentioning Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe)…”

By the way, the inaccurate correspondence of personalities in the historical periods by Obiano should be excused. The governor rightly attributed the current construction of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway to Buhari. In 30 years from today, that is how the story of the road would be narrated.

However, it would be wrong to attribute the building of the same road in the 1990s to Buhari just as it would be wrong to give the credit of the present construction to Works Minister Babatunde Fashola.

As a matter of fact, the praise for the earlier construction of the road should go to General Sani Abacha, who was the military Head of State during that dark period of Nigeria’s history. Buhari was only the head of an agency in the Abacha government as the Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) just like Fashola is only a minister in Buhari’s administration today.

In other words, history would allocate the responsibility for whatever happens or fails happen in the development of Nigeria today to Buhari just as the verdict of history would be passed on those in power before the President.

How does the Obiano complimentary remark about Buhari speak to the moment now waiting for the President to seize?

It might come as a surprise to a 30-year old Nigerian that something positive was mentioned about the Abacha era by Obiano: the construction of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. Perhaps Obiano was being politically correct by not mentioning Abacha. He cleverly praised an Abacha appointee at the time for the project.

Yes, during the Abacha regime projects were executed : roads, bridges, water works, schools and health facilities. In fact, the politicians of the five political parties, who adopted Abacha as the sole presidential candidate for the election that never was in 1998, trumpeted these projects as achievements of Abacha.

The absurdity of the period was captured by the inimitable political orator, Bola Ige, who described the Abacha parties as “five fingers of a leprous hand.”

Before the adoption, Abacha had even staged its own political conference which attracted a lot of eminent and credible Nigerians who assumed he was sincere about the transition to democracy. It is now little remembered that the idea of applying the six-zone structure in conducting the affairs of Nigeria was first formally proposed by Vice President Alex Ekwueme at the Abacha conference.

It was during the Abacha administration that technocrats, businessmen and other serious minded men and women crafted the Vision 2010 for Nigeria.

In the last 21 years some of the Abacha politicians have become governors, senators, ministers and heads of agencies.

None of them talks about the projects executed by the Abacha brutal administration anymore.

Instead, the Abacha era is now remembered as a reign of the maximum ruler, a period when the freedom of the Nigerian people was arrogantly denied by an oppressive state. What has defined the Abacha period is the authoritarian and repressive politics. Rather than point to roads and bridges, the Abacha rule is painfully remembered for those killed, jailed or forced into exile.

President Ibrahim Babangida stamped his signature indelibly on the political economy of Nigeria. From his own outlook, the military President deliberately embarked upon elaborate political and socio-economic reforms to recast the path to Nigeria’s future. Projects were also executed with a streak of authoritative governance. Prominent among these projects were those executed in Abuja. Babangida was the first President to rule from Abuja after he moved to the nation’s capital in December of 1991.

Unlike the fate of Abacha, Babangida is luckier because not a few neo-liberal elements still defend the imperative of his Structural Adjustment Programme(SAP) despite its socially destructive consequences.

However, what seems to have defined the Babangida regime was the mismanagement of the politics of his transition programme. Even by the admission of Babangida’s admirers, the anti-climax was the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola. The inauguration of a new president was to be the culmination of the long-winding transition programme.

Perhaps no president in the history of Nigeria has been so conscious of the verdict of history as Babangida while power.

Yet, future historians would have a lot of interpretation to do on why Babangida seemed not to learn the elementary lesson of history that power is, after all, transient.

Although the contexts in the two periods referred to in the foregoing were markedly different from the situation today under Buhari, there is the same tendency of failing to learn from history on the part of the actors in the present civil dispensation.

For instance, the debate on the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo will linger because of the different readings of the period. But the enormous political errors of Obasanjo loom large in many reviews of his leadership. Although it was denied later , the failed attempt to have a third term has remained a big dent on Obasanjo’s political profile. The “third term agenda” is more readily remembered than any project executed by the Obasanjo’s administration.

Essentially, there is nothing new about those in power arrogating to themselves the monopoly of telling the gospel truths and being imbued with values of patriotism.

The statements from Aso Rock in recent times do not suggest that President Muhammadu Buhari is about to seize the moment to learn the requite lessons of history.

To start with, Buhari doesn’t have eternity to make his mark in history. He has 32 months more in which he should studiously avoid irredeemable errors of omission or commission.

That’s why it is strange when a statement is issued in the name of the President asking the people not to “rush” him into taking what is obviously an urgent decision. Such statements fail to take into account the obvious fact that the time Buhari has to perform duty is defined by the constitution. It is not a matter of choice.

The time and energy spent on verbal battles with those performing their civic duties by being critical of the government should rather be devoted to rethinking policies so as that improve the Nigerian condition.

Aso Rock does not have to reply every criticism with insults.

The other day, the President chastised “irresponsible activists” against whom he called on his team to go an offensive. The President made this statement at a time when the real offensive should be on the inexplicable dysfunction in his government. The culture of agencies and functionaries of the same government openly fighting for turfs is inimical to the cause of competent governance.

Among other worrisome statements in the October 1 statement of the President, he made this claim: “An underlying cause of most of the problems we faced as a nation is our consistent harping on artificially contrived fault-lines that we have harboured and allowed unnecessarily to fester.”

Reading this statement as Buhari’s response to the heat generated by his own mismanagement of identity politics should spur a lot of foreboding.

The statement reeks of arrogance of power, undue impatience and a notion of omniscience.

Some Nigerians have described it as a tendency towards authoritarianism. There is a good a measure of justification for this accusation.

For instance, is it an “artificially contrived fault-line” when Buhari is accused of nepotism in making government appointments and violating the federal character provision in the constitution?

As a follow-up to the National Day broadcast, a most unhelpful statement from the Presidency, referred to above, warned advocates of restructuring to desist from putting Buhari under pressure and rushing him to take decisions.

Restructuring the polity was prominent in the manifesto of Buhari’s political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), during the 2015 election. During his first term, no serious step was taken on this central political question. In fact, in the build-up to the 2019 election a committee was set up by the party to rejig its position on restructuring.

The committee was headed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, who, incidentally, was part the process of putting together the party’s programme towards the 2015 election. So how come the issues which are derivatives of the distortion of the Nigerian federalism are now “artificially contrived fault – lines” in the political dictionary of the Buhari administration?

Worse still, the administration has ignored the patriotic voices urging Buhari to have a look at the report of the 2014 conference organised by President Goodluck Jonathan as a response to the same calls for restructuring the federation.

Now, this could be called a political project of Jonathan which he failed to complete. Yet, the Buhari administration is working to complete some infrastructural projects begun by preceding administrations including that of Jonathan.

Why is the Buhari administration shy of completing the political project of Jonathan which is the realistic to answer the troubling question of the separatists and irredentists?

The President is justifiably is proud of the projects being executed by his administrations. He has urged his ministers to blow the government’s trumpets. It’s remarkable that the administration is thinking of lifting 100 million people out of poverty in the next ten years. It will be great if an identifiable framework is put in place in this respect. The efforts of the government to craft a development plan should also be supported by all classes and groups regardless of different interests.

Despite all these, the socio-economic condition compounded by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic will task the competence of the best economic managers. The Buhari administration would deserve an applause if it could improve things in the social sector (especially health and education) and also prevent a collapse of the economy. But it would be illusory to expect the completion of all the infrastructural projects in the next 32 months given the economic circumstance.

Above all, it is now clear that whoever desires a united Nigeria cannot ignore the calls to re-make it a federation rooted on social justice, equality, inclusion and a more efficient governance.

So, the Buhari administration may be ultimately defined by its management of the identity politics.

That’s why the President should be patient and tolerant in dealing with complex issues of national unity.

He should be more sensitive to the burgeoning anger in the land.

Indeed, there are legitimate political grievances which require a more adroit management than what is ominously on display on the national horizon.

Looking back to about 40 years ago when Buhari became Head of State, the era has been defined by dictatorship, a period Nigeria was under the jackboot of the military rulers.

It is safe to speculate that in 40 years from now the Buhari administration would be remembered by what happened to national unity under his leadership more than any project.

The President should, therefore, approach the question of national integration in a programmatic manner.

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